Monday, May 19, 2014

Term Limits for Deans?

I was thinking about the fact that UF law will have an interim dean for a year or two and considering what difference in makes if  one is interim or permanent. How would these situations change decision making? I starting out thinking the permanent dean would be the way to go but ended up favoring the interim dean. But then I realized I was really thinking about  deanships with a term limit and one without. It seems to me that the term limited dean is the way to go. So, just thinking out loud although I know you cannot hear me unless you have Super Man hearing, I think the ideal is the 5 year term limit deanship.

Lets compare the two. If someone accepts a deanship with an unlimited term they do not want it to end prematurely because that means he or she has displeased a significant segment of the faculty.  If you have stumbled into this blog perhaps looking for something something astute about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, I am sorry and here is a link but this statement may surprise you. Isn't the Dean the boss, you might ask? The answer would be and  is "yes" but only as long as he does the work (sometimes the dirty work) of most of the faculty. If you, misguided reader of beat poetry, think they are like politicians, you have it right and they are constantly up for reelection. In fact, the best advice for the non term limited dean is to do nothing. Actually I was told this by a ex dean who was told it by a long tern dean. Sure a dean who does nothing is one at whom everyone is a little irritated  but also one who has not really rocked the boat even if rocking the boat is what a law school needs. For the non term limited dean the first priority is the keep one's job by keeping the faculty at bay. So, you do not stop useless programs that a small number people may have bought into. You reward those who could make trouble and those who always agree. Your expressed values have a weather vane like quality and your first question on everything  is "what does this mean for moi?"

They term limit dean has freedom.  Everyone knows he or she is gone in five years so there is rarely a failed deanship. It's like teflon. No matter what anyone says you were scheduled to leave in five years anyway. Do you need to keep your finger in the air to assess where you stand? Maybe a bit but since everyone knows you are gone in five years what's the point in trying to get you tossed out. And, since you know you will be gone in five years, why not put yourself aside and do the right thing. When Ms. Big Cheese comes to your office and demands something and threatens to leave you can say "ta ta" because her approval is not something you need.  In fact, you can do the right thing and if the faculty do not like it, resign (in 5 years).On the other hand, if the limited term dean lacks the balls to confront the most arrogant sob on the faculty or caves into the whiners who claim the word "no" is punitive,  the good news is that he or she is gone in 5 years.

I am all in for the limited term dean but I cannot tell you what Lawrence Ferlinghetti thinks.

But while I am on Mr. Ferlinghetti, I recall as a student, going to a reading at which he recited or read or a happening. The Happening was entitled "fuck clock." It was about two people who were hands of a clock and when the clock got to midnight they were intimate but only for a second I guess. I can find no trace of this on the internet.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Crab Legs, One Point for Scalia, and the Big Mac Attack

If I were keeping Scalia score I would have to revise the total to 1 for Scalia and 1,000,000 against instead of the previous score of 0 to 1,000,000. The reason has to do with this commencement speech at William and Mary. I cannot say I agree with all of it but, in a nutshell, it is a argument for more required and general courses. Where I do not agree is perhaps on the specific courses.

There are two implications of his talk that are directly relevant for this blog. They have to do with two recently discussed themes:  elitists control law schools for their own ends; law school is now a commodity promoted like Big Macs. In fact we now have BOGO where you can get two years of education for the price of one.

I'll leave you to check out what students may take these days at your law school. I know at my law school you can learn to meditate, stare at a raisin, talk about what it means to be you, go to the beach for a week to student beach law. etc. (So far, no yoga or nutrition classes but I am thinking of proposing some because they are as usefull as any others.)  there are many, many others that, I admit,  I  would like to take myself but it would not be out of a sense of obligation to the profession.

The problem is that these courses and the choices seem to have little connection to actual clients. Yet, public law schools, in any rational sense, exist for clients. On the other hand, what actually happens in law school is for the teachers  and students.

On the teacher side it's about teaching either what your current interests are or whatever political ax you are grinding. Whether it connects to clients is beside the point.  But that is what you get when an entire institution is captured and run primarily by people who have lived in the upper 10%.

Of course, recently the importance of selling law school like a McDonald's meal has gummed up the works and the need to attract consumers means not just doing exactly what professors want but what students want as well.  Some of them, a generally more honorable group than the profs, actually have in mind advancing their own welfare by advancing that of clients. Others view the school as bit of a travel agency. There are summer programs here and there where no teacher who wants to go back will take roll or give less than a B. And don't forget the exchange programs where only a dumb bunny would not spend most of the time touring. Still others worship at the alter of the GPA and I can hardly blame them. Until employers realize how very little GPA means, the students have  little choice. (I have know some high GPA students who I would not let tie my shoe and I am sure Rod Stewart feels the same way.) So they take the raisin class and others like because it means high grades. They flock to independent study and externships often to defend an already in-the-books decent GPA. At my school, if you play your cards right you can take over 50% of your credit on pass-fail. You only fail if you are dumb enough to walk out of a grocery store without paying for crab legs.

If you think of law schools like corporations, the faculty are the managers and they routinely give themselves the highest compensation possible even it is in the form of not grading, teaching fun stuff, and taking a week or two off here and there. The customers are the students who get to choose what their legal education looks like. For many it looks like and is as nutritious as a Big Mac. Oh, the shareholderS? Fuck'em! But you knew that, right?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Piketty, Patrimonial Capitalism, Accidentalness, and Law Professors

I was not aware of the term "patrimonial capitalism" until Thomas Piketty used it in his book.  The term describes much of America and the reason why law professors will never be the at the forefront of social change. Piketty's book, everyone knows by now, is about the concentration of wealth. Patrimonial capitalism is the term he uses to describe its passing from generation to generation. Thus, the wealthy pass their wealth on the their children and so on. Unlike Piketty, I would include within wealth so called natural abilities whether characterized by intelligence or athletic talent. Among law professors, all these forms of wealth are evident. Not many people with working class backgrounds make it into the profession and those who do make it can be total fuck ups for life and still inherit wealth and pass it along to their kids. They live the easy life while those who do not share the wealth generally have it tougher.

By what right are some children huge share holders in a system of patrimonial capitalism and some children left out completely? None that I can think of. Everyone, including law professors are simply the result of two people who chose to mix sperm with and egg. They may not have loved each other or they may have mistakenly thought they did and none of that makes a difference in any case. They may have hated each other longer than they felt any affection.  In fact, perhaps the sperm and egg only mixed because of a birth control failure. Five times it worked and those kids never existed and then it did not work and there you are. And what about the sperm that missed the egg by a zillionth of an inch. In fact, when you think about it,  most of us almost did not happen at all. And here is the kicker, the parents generally love the child regardless of the circumstances leading to his or her existence but don't get a big head about it. They would have loved any child. So, you may feel loved but in a sense it has nothing to do with you. They would have loved a turnip.

How people get from their ultimate accidentalness to the idea that they deserve anything is beyond me. Perhaps what we call  humility is a sense of accidentalness.

When you get right down to it, law professors and others who think they deserve or earned something are like lottery winners who wake up one morning and believe they have special lottery skills or earned their lottery earnings through hard work.

I once tongue in cheek suggested that a  fair world would be one in which babies in the hospital nursery would be randomly distributed to the parent who gave birth. So, you checked in,had your baby and then got a baby when you checked out. I thought it would mean every child would have and equal opportunity. That was a pretty crazy idea. It would not change anything in a system of patrimonial capitalism.

Of course, law professors are not the only ones living off patrimonial capitalism. Many MDs fall in the same category as well as just  regular rich people. The difference is this. None of those people talk and write about fairness and justice and such or claim to be on the side of the downtrodden. Many law professor do but its phony. Patrimonial capitalism is like a drug they cannot live without. It is foolish to expect anything from them. But you knew that didn't you?

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Fighting for Their Lives with Your Dough

Every  market indicator I know of says the market for law school grads is pretty lousy. When the demand drops for most other goods and services, firms diversify or reduce output. As the industry shrinks they battle it out to determine who will survive and who will have whatever share of the dwindling market. That is just the way things work. I am sure the horse drawn carriage industry fought like hell to keep up. The smart ones began putting engines in their carriages.

Evidently these same market realities apply to law schools.  Schools are now seeking to diversify by adding new programs -- undergraduate, 2 years programs, skills oriented programs -- as though this will delay the inevitable. The inevitable will be defined by the demand side of the market, not the supply. Still these supply side efforts make some sense if schools are encouraged to find better products where there is an existing and possibly unmet demand (as opposed to ones the School creates itself).

What about the demand side? Here things get sticky and the question is how much law schools should invest in fighting over the shrinking population of potential customers.  At worst one can imagine a state law school investing thousands of dollars of other peoples' money attempting to preserve itself when it was always intended to be a means to an end and nothing more.

On this theme of demand here are some of the ways it plays out --  nothing to be proud of.  As the demand for lawyers goes down so does the demand for law school. One way do deal with the demand side issue is to admit students who would not have been admitted 20 years ago. And, in the past 20 years since many schools have adopted a "no one fails policy" it means inviting a huge investment by students who may never pass a bar exam. But who cares as long as elitist law profs keep their jobs?

Or a school may address the demand issue by massively increasing its placement efforts. On one hand I applaud this but, let's face it, there are limited jobs and that means a zero sum game. If one school and its students win the zero sum game, others lose it. Is the industry really any better off. Is there really any justification for one person to have a job and another not to have one simply on the basis of how aggressive the placement efforts are?

Dwindling demand means all kinds of glossy publications and other the top web pages that are slightly toned down infomercials. All costly and, ironically, driving up the cost of the very thing for which there is limited demand.

Finally, there is the need/temptation to cheat on the USN&WR rankings. Certainly dwindling demand creates an incentive to innovate with respect to how placement figures, costs per student, and faculty per student are calculated. More time that administrators devote to preserving institutions that the market is saying is no longer needed.

What concerns me about the demand side of the equation is the massive expense that is incurred (and passed onto others) to maintain the status quo. To some extent this comes out of the hide of taxpayers and law students but the goal is to preserve the jobs of generally privileged people.